Death of a Redshank Chief

On this day in 1572, Sir William FitzWilliam, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, wrote to Queen Elizabeth with an update on the situation in that country. The letter included a number of enclosures, among them “Note of Aghen M’Owen Duffe M’Alastran, otherwise called the Lord of Loope, more esteemed than Sorley Boy, and other chief Scots, slain at the overthrow of their footmen by Cheston.”[1]

Although most historians who record the incident call this laird of Loup John M’Owen Duffe, the Macalister chieftain in this year was in fact Hector, 3rd of Loup.[2] The death of Hector Macalister was evidently seen by the Lord Deputy as a significant loss to the Scots. He is named, while others killed in the battle are simply ‘chief Scots’. To say that he was ‘more esteemed’ than Clan Donald hero Somhairle Buidhe (Sorley Boy) – who had seized his late brother’s Ulster estates for himself and proceeded to make an enormous nuisance of himself to the English authorities in Ireland – might have been an exaggeration, but Hector was certainly “a considerable figure in Clan Donald South”.[3]

The particular battle in which Hector was killed probably took place near Carrickfergus. It does not appear to have been especially notable, just another episode in the ongoing conflict between the Macdonnells of the Glens of Antrim and the English forces in Ireland. But the record of Loup’s death in this clash is significant to Macalister history because it highlights two longstanding Macalister traditions: military service in Ireland, and support for the Clan Iain Mòr. 

Macalister chieftains had been leading their clansmen to battle in Ireland since the very founding of the clan. Alasdair Mòr, the clan’s progenitor, appears to have spent much of his adult life fighting in Ireland, and generations of Clan Alasdair chieftains followed in his footsteps. Unlike the gallòglaich, who settled permanently in Ireland to serve as mercenary forces for whoever would pay them, the Macalister chiefs were among those later described as Redshanks: seasonal warriors, coming to fight for a time before returning to their homes in the Highlands and Western Isles. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that Hector of Loup happened to be there when Captain Thomas Cheston defeated a force of Scots.

Hector’s death in the service of Somhairle Buidhe (Sorley Boy), younger brother of Sir James Macdonald of Dunyvaig, illustrates the Macalisters’ continued alliance with the Dunyvaig family – chiefly family of the Clan Iain Mòr or Clan Donald South. Somhairle Buidhe was head at this time of the Macdonnells of Antrim and the Glens, the Ulster branch of Clan Iain Mòr. As the Macalisters reliably supported the Dunyvaig family against its foes in Scotland (including the Scottish king), they also gave Somhairle Buidhe “their most strenuous support”[4] against his foes in Ireland (including the English Queen). 

By dying in Ireland, following his military forebears in support of his clan’s closest allies, ‘Aghen M’Owen Duffe, Lord of Loope’, gave us a snapshot of the clan in its historical context.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Calendar of the State Papers Relating to Ireland, of the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, 1509-1573 (Vol. XXXV, p. 466).
[2] Apparently these writers took Aghen to be a variant of Ewen or Owen, and these names to be equivalent to Iain (the Lord Deputy himself used Owen for Iain in the chief’s patronymic); accordingly they assumed his English name was John. However, even if Ewen/Owen were the same name as Iain (which they’re not), Aghen would not be a logical variant. Irish –gh– equates in Scots Gaelic not to –w– but to –ch– (compare Irish lough/Scottish loch), which makes Aghen much closer phonetically to the Scots Gaelic name Eachainn than to Iain. Eachainn was always rendered Hector in English. 
[3] A. Campbell of Airds, A History of Clan Campbell, vol. 2, pp. 72-3.
[4] Donald J. MacDonald of Castleton, Clan Donald, p. 166

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